Video: Off to Neverland with Peter Pan

WHILE you’re enjoy Peter Pan on Ice with the Russian Ice Stars this Christmas, spare a thought for Sasha Halmiz.

He’s the one who spent the night at the Ipswich Regent, spraying water over the freezing cold stage to help create the rink.

“I passed that buck on,” laughs Wild Rose Ice Theatre tour manager Sam Clarkson. “I’ve just picked him up and brought him back to the hotel to have his breakfast.”

“I’d love to make it sound more exciting. Literally if there’s a fire hose in the building with decent pressure we’ll pull that off the wall. Crushed ice goes down and we’ve got to make sure that’s level, then he goes over the whole rink for however long it takes the machines to freeze the water.”

A strict timetable has to be followed so the rink is ready for rehearsal skating. Before that could start, a scaffolding company arrived at 6am on Wednesday to extend the stage.

“For the skaters to achieve their best for the show they need at least 12m by 12m. The Regent’s 11.5m wide, by the time we’ve got the pipework in at the back and allowed a metre for the cross corridor I think we only had about eight metres depth. They’ve added a good three metres on to the front, which loses some seating but gives us the all important extra ice space,” adds Sam.

Wild Rose started at 11am, after arriving in two 45ft trucks – a box trailer with the lights, set, flying equipment and costumes and a curtain sider with the two chiller units, floor system and surround.

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Two 15m by 15m industrial pool liners are laid on the stage and side supports of wood are built to create a large, shallow swimming pool. Inside this, a special flexible rubber pipe is laid and connected to the chiller units.

The floor system – 15km of pipe work – is used to create the ice floor. Laid end to end, a similar distance would take Kelly Holmes one hour and 15 minutes to run.

This is filled with anti-freeze and the pressure checked. Some 2,500 litres are circulated through the floor pipe system, enough to fill 100 Rolls Royce radiators. It reaches temperatures of at least -15C, three times colder than a home freezer.

At this point Sam points at the once black rubber pipes, which are now frosty white, trailing off the stage out to the curtain sider.

Four tons of crushed ice – the equivalent to the weight of two double-decker buses – from the nearest fish market is then spread over the floor pipes, providing a headstart in the freezing process. It could be done with just water, he says, but the rink would never get built in time.

Then the rink is sprayed with 10,000 litres of water – enough to make more than 56,000 cups of tea – every 20-30 minutes overnight until it’s 7-8cm thick. This takes approximately 14-18 hours.

From start to finish, the whole process takes 26-27 hours – allowing work to start on the set and lighting.

“Obviously you can’t put any set in the day before because it’ll get soaking wet with the guy spraying at night. We’re blessed with time this week; we wanted to make sure we got it right because it’s a long run over Christmas. We don’t start any rehearsals until Friday.”

While a relatively simple process, it creates something quite magical. Which is more than can be said for dismantling the rink.

“It takes about 30 hours and we just thump the hell out of it to break it into small pieces. It’s a tedious process, there’s no easy way of doing it other than physically break it up with large bits of wood, shovel it into barrows and take it out the door,” he laughs. “It’s a great kids’ show that parents can enjoy too. When you see what the skaters can achieve on such a small stage it’s incredible. The intimacy is incredible, the only time you can get so close to such a good level of skating is if you’re lucky enough to get a front row at the European championships or Olympics.”

The Regent’s general manager, David Mansfield, thinks not having a pantomime this year is going to pay off.

“It was a big decision, but when the opportunity came along we thought yes, this is a bit special and jumped at it.

“There’s something very different about having an ice show in that we have lots of rock shows and comedy and West End touring shows, this is genuinely completely different and people want something that’s different. In describing the production, producers often use hyperbole. The descriptions of this are justified.”

Peter Pan on Ice runs at the Ipswich Regent from tomorrow to January 30.